They're Going to Make a Fortune ; the Tower Mint Makes Souvenirs and Chocolate Coins. but against All the Odds, This Small Firm Has Won a Contract to Make Some Real Money - on Behalf of the Gibraltar Government. by Josh Sims
Sims, Josh, The Independent (London, England)
CCTV has been installed and round-the-clock security guards called in. Bars have been put up across windows and entrances reinforced. Metal detectors sit over each doorway. Pin codes are changed daily. The place is impregnable. Nobody will make off with a bag of Ryan Giggs commemorative medallions or a bag of chocolate coins from the Tower Mint tonight...
Indeed, the fact that the anonymous industrial complex off the beaten tracks of south London has these new security measures may at first sight seem rather excessive. For, despite its grand name, the Tower Mint's regular stock-in-trade is souvenirs. Established some 30 years ago and now London's only mint, it designs and makes more original collectable coins and medals than any other mint in the world. Every British historic site, from Buckingham Palace to the British Museum, as well as the likes of Ellis Island and the Palace of Versailles, has turned to Tower to set a small celebration in base metal, be it a coin, spoon or key-ring. Football clubs and corporations, including Esso and Barclays, have placed private commissions.
And then there is the dark stuff. Five years ago the business expanded: extending its expertise in bas-relief design to become the UK's only makers of chocolate coins. Visitors to Harrods and Fortnum's all bite into Tower's edible metal. It also makes probably the world's largest chocolate coins. One floor is devoted to the chug-chug-chug pressing and polishing of lumps of metal into discs of distinction, while, next door, blaring hip hop accompanies a production line bagging some toddler's golden-foiled pirate loot.
All of which makes the imposing padlocks feel like overkill - until you hear about Tower's new contract. In a small, secure backroom stand barrels of blanks, the metal discs used to make coins, and an imposing pressing- machine, capable of pumping out 700 coins a minute. From this spot, amid the Chester Zoo souvenirs, will issue the new legal tender for Gibraltar. This year is Gibraltar's tercentenary. To mark the occasion, the Rock wants a complete overhaul of its coinage - an undisclosed value, amounting to several million pounds, of eight new designs of coins, together with a series of special-edition commemorative crowns. And, after months of negotiations, it has selected Tower Mint to produce them - and that's in the usual brass, nickel, bronze or steel, not Belgium's finest cocoa solids.
"You think of a historic place that has visitors, from Windsor Castle to St Paul's, and they've had our medals. Palaces, cathedrals, many historic buildings want a commemorative medal now," says the portrait sculptor Raphael Maklouf, FRSA, Tower Mint's founding design director and the man who, in his previous job, created the effigy of the Queen that adorns most of the UK coinage now in circulation. "But we've always wanted to get into legal tender. We were an outside bid, but circumstances meant we were suddenly put in the frame. We're delighted to get it. It puts us in the first division. But it has meant we've had to start being incredibly careful. Most employees have been here for decades, so there's a trust there. But new security systems have been put in, too."
Aside from the excitement of being asked to produce a completely new set of designs to mark a historically important anniversary, it is also a new direction for the company that, long term, could put a few coins in Tower's own bank account. It opens the door to allow Tower to tender for similar contracts. But in the meantime, once a coinage has been created, it needs to be continually replaced. "The funny thing is that a lot of coins disappear," says Maklouf. "People travel, they get some change, take it home thinking they'll go back some day. They put it in jam jars, lose it down the sofa - and that means more work for us."
It is certainly a big job for a small and young …
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Publication information: Article title: They're Going to Make a Fortune ; the Tower Mint Makes Souvenirs and Chocolate Coins. but against All the Odds, This Small Firm Has Won a Contract to Make Some Real Money - on Behalf of the Gibraltar Government. by Josh Sims. Contributors: Sims, Josh - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: March 22, 2004. Page number: 4,5. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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